Culture Bias in Intelligence Assessments Term Paper

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Culturally Biased Intelligence Assessment

Intelligence assessments have existed since the early twentieth century and have continued to be a topic of debate. We all know full well that intelligence assessment is critical to the type if academic success that we achieve in life. One of the primary tools used to assess intelligence is the IQ test. However, the intelligence quotient test has been under scrutiny for decades because it is believed to harbor culturally biased precepts.

The purpose of this discussion is to explore the cultural bias' that exist in intelligence quotient testing. We will begin with a literary review which will start by explaining the definition of cultural bias in testing and the historical implications. We will explain the origins of the IQ test and the reasons why the cultural bias exist. Our discussion will then focus on how cultural bias in intelligence assessment has produced historical implications.

We will then discuss the most widely used IQ test and significance of this test. Our review will then focus on the lasting impacts of cultural bias on our society. These impacts include a lack of attention given to minority students and a sluggish attitude towards challenging students to achieve academic success.

We will also discuss the implications psychometrics and what may happen in the future if a culturally unbiased test is not created. This area of the discussion will focus on the detrimental effects that will happen if intelligence assessment does not change.

Finally, we will end the paper by discussing our findings and stating our conclusions. Now let us begin our literary review on the subject of culturally biased intelligence assessment.

Literary Review

Definition of Cultural bias in Testing and Historical Implications

Myers (1995) contends that the IQ test, as we know it, was created by a German psychologist named William Stern. The test asserts that an individual's intelligence quotient is equal to mental age divided by chronological age multiplied by 100. Other scientists, including Lewis Terman and Alfred Binet helped to perfect the tests. Terman believed that intelligence could be measured and that IQ tests would demonstrate that certain ethnic groups had natural propensities towards crime and lacked intelligence. (Myers 1995) He reckoned that IQ testing could eventually reduce reproduction of these ethnic groups thus creating a reduction in crime. As you can see from the very start the IQ test had less than noble intentions and demonstrated a cultural bias.

Cultural bias in testing involves conducting a test in manner that allows one culture or group of people to benefit from the results. When a test is culturally biased, the wording or cultural norms that are presented in the test will only pertain to one group of people. For example, a test may ask a question that is only relevant to the culture that the test is designed to have a bias towards.

Usually the benefactors of culturally biased tests are the white middle class. While the individuals that suffer are minority groups such as Hispanics, blacks and recent immigrants.

These cultural biases are most evident in commonly used standardized test, such as the SAT and the Intelligence Quotient test. For the purposes of this discussion we will focus on the IQ test.

Patton (1992) explains, that cultural bias in intelligence assessment exists because the tests primarily focus on skills that are valued in Western European culture. The original scientists that formulated the test based the questions on their personal world views, which were Eurocentric. Thus making the test discriminatory against any culture that is not European or does not share the worldview of European culture. (Patton 1992) Patton also explains that California has made it illegal to place students in certain academic settings based on the results of an IQ test because the test are so myopic. (Patton 1992)

Suzuki and Vallencia (1997), also believe that understanding culture is the key to measuring intelligence. The article asserts that a racial-ethnic group difference simply means that there are certain commonalities between individuals that are linked through racial-ethnic groups or through self identification. The authors concede that if individuals were tested along racial-ethnic lines or socioeconomic status the evidence would indicate that no one group is more intelligent than another. (Suzuki and Vallencia 1997)

Suzuki and Vallencia (1997) assert that several studies have been conducted to observe differences in IQ's amongst various ethnic groups. The studies found that Native Americans and Hispanics seem to have greater visual reasoning abilities and lower verbal skills; while people in the Asian culture tend to have high visual and numerical reasoning skills. Many experts believe that these differences have to do with the non-verbal communication that is standard in some cultures, which forces individuals to pick up on visual clues. Some researchers have also concluded that some of the differences have to do with the religious and philosophical beliefs of certain cultures.

In short all of these researchers are saying that culture is a central part pf measuring intelligence. For instance, if an American who is extremely good with computers goes to visit a tribe deep in the Amazon that has not have any need for a computer, then his skills are useless in the Amazon. This does not mean that he is intellectually inferior to the tribe in the Amazon it just means that cultural differences have dictated the need to acquire different skills. In the Amazon the people may need to become skilled hunters and fishermen. While Americans need to learn how to operate a computer -- the skills acquired are relative to the culture that the individual lives in.

There have been several historical implications of culturally biased intelligence assessments. According to the APA Monitor, Dr. Robert Williams, a black psychologist, created the Black Intelligence Test of Cultural Homogeneity. ("Enriching the Focus on ethnicity and race," 1998) The purpose of the test was to illustrate that intelligence had a cultural basis as opposed to a genetic one. He sought to prove that if an intelligence test was based on the specific cultural norms of the individuals being tested, then the outcome of the test would demonstrate that intelligence was relative to culture. ("Enriching the Focus on ethnicity and race," 1998)

Williams is not alone in his belief that intelligence can only truly be measured within the correct cultural context. Segall (1998) explains that culture and intelligence are intertwined and highly dependent upon one another. The article, published in American Psychologist explains that it is critical that psychologists began to take a serious look at the effect of culture on human behavior and intellect. (Segall, 1998) Segall asserts that taking culture into consideration is the only way to truly measure intelligence or to properly observe human behavior. (Segall, 1998)

According to Myers (1995) one of the most profound implications came during World War I when army recruits and new immigrants were given IQ tests designed by Terman. According to many experts in the field at that time, the test scores indicated that many of the subjects displayed an inferior intelligence compared to Caucasians. In addition, in 1913 a psychologist named Henry Goddard concluded that at least 80% of individuals within each new immigrant group were feeble minded. Goddard's results played an instrumental role in the formation of the 1924 immigration law, which deceased quotas for immigrants from southern and eastern Europe while increasing quotas for western and northern Europe.

Despite the efforts of Robert Williams, psychologists continued to hold fast to the notion that minorities were of inferior intelligence based on IQ tests. In fact, in 1994 Dr. Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray authored a book entitled "The Bell Curve" which capitalized on the notion of intellectual inferiority. ("Enriching the Focus on ethnicity and race," 1998) The book asserts that unemployment, low income levels and reliance upon the welfare system were simply inherent to minority groups because low IQ's were based on genetic premise within these groups. ("Enriching the Focus on ethnicity and race," 1998)

Herrnstein and Murray (1994) also assert that those that are intellectually inferior should be made wards of the state. The authors write that these wards of the state should be relegated to living on reservation while the rest of America "goes about its business." (Herrnstein and Murray 1994) Herrnstein and Murray believe that the preservation of American individualism was dependent upon separating the intellectually inferior from the rest of the population. (Herrnstein and Murray 1994)

Hilliard (2000) contends that the beliefs presented in "The Bell Curve" don't factor in the impact that a teacher can have on the intelligence of an individual. In addition Hilliard asserts that the ideas that Herrnstein and Murray have are primitive and unfounded. Hilliard concludes that this book is inaccurate in its assessment of people that are perceived as intellectually inferior. (Hilliard, 2000)

The most popular IQ tests used and continued impact of cultural bias on IQ testing

There are several different IQ tests that are used to assess intelligence today. One of the most widely used is the…

Sources Used in Document:


Educators Should Require Evidence. (1999). Phi Delta Kappan, 81(2), 132.

Enriching the Focus on ethnicity and race. (1998). APA Monitor. VOLUME 29, NUMBER 3 - March 1998

Alexander, K.L. (1997). Public Schools and the Public Good. Social Forces, 76(1), 1-30.


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